LETTER: City Should Listen to Residents Voices About Development

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Submitted by Linda Scott, Watertown Resident

Information lodged in mythical/moving spaces …
Extremely long surveys with no obvious “save” function …
Sticky notes rather than conversation …
Underplaying or omitting what residents are actually saying in government reports …
Information “hidden” in plain sight …
Meeting notes for City meetings not updated or correct …

These are all things that stymie public participation, and yet residents persisted!

On March 9, 2023, a group of over 100 Watertown residents (according to the Comprehensive Plan consultants) came out (about 80 in person and 20 or more on zoom) to attempt to get their voices heard on the Comprehensive Plan … again.

We had the usual run of sticky notes on poster boards, but at one point, when residents had obediently filled in their “stickies,” one brave citizen stood up and insisted that we, as a group, have a chance to speak. There is a recording of that conversation that is frustratingly garbled beyond recognition … another roadblock to understanding.

Tonight, the Watertown Department of Community Development and Planning (DCDP) is going to argue against two petitions aimed, not at stopping growth, but at using discretion in how we do it in our city and residential neighborhoods. (See https://www.watertownmanews.com/2023/06/12/this-week-planning-board-hears-citizens-petitions-council-voting-on-budget/). These petitions were signed by over 600 residents. What aren’t reflected in their signatures are their comments:

“Thanks for doing this!” (standing outside getting signatures or going door to door).

“I’ll sign, but you’re wasting your time. The City doesn’t listen to residents anymore.”

“What’s happening to this City is ridiculous!”

The Planning Board, that is the deciding body for this type of thing (only superseded by the City Council), will be told by the DCDP that this is contrary to the Comprehensive Plan and should be rejected by them. “Let’s wait for the Comprehensive Plan to be approved,” they’ll say, ironically, while quietly planning amongst themselves to load downtown with more of the same.

How do I know this? I had a conversation with the City Manager. It went something like this: ”In regard to the MBTA Law, we intend to build.” He spoke of one very large building that he’d like to see built on a parcel land if Watertown could get a hold of it. (Note: in 1985 this piece of land was proposed as a green open space, again, if Watertown could gain control of it.) When told that buildings like that would not make sense for Watertown families, he acknowledged that but said that in Somerville that type of building was found very attractive to foreign students and their families. That’s great. Nothing wrong with students, foreign or otherwise, but what about Watertown families??

And before people who live in homogenous Watertown neighborhoods, scream, “Where’s our diversity???!” Come visit my street. Off the top of my head, besides Irish and Italians, we’ve got Greeks, Armenians, Peruvians, Columbians, Puerto Ricans, Chinese, Albanians, and African Americans. We’re a melting pot, and it’s great!! But my neighbors who are in real jeopardy are the renters, who are a paycheck, a rent raise and a developer away from having to leave their Watertown homes.

So, in an attempt to give you an idea of how in sync with the Comprehensive Plan these petitions are, here’s what the consultants say were the most frequent “sticky” comments that night:

Enhance Character and Quality of Life [taken verbatim from plan]

Strategies with most marks for “strategies you think are important”: 2B, 2A, 2H Comments:

  • [2A] MBTA law doesn’t require all new units in one single area! Please consider adding more areas for this MBTA law!!
  • [2A] Fountain and benches in delta. Trees needed in delta and all nearby streets!
  • [2B] And be more welcoming to ppl who don’t live there o^ agree!
  • [2D] Address vacant store front with variety of uses
  • [2G] We should be focusing on growing our neighborhoods so they are vibrant places, not trying to erase(sic) them in amber. We are Watertown, not Weston!
  • [2G] “Preserving neighborhood character” is a phrase rooted in illegal racial covenant’s from the 1900’s used to exclude people. It has no place in our town plan.
  • [2G] Design Guidelines! Let’s do it this time.
  • [2H] Legalize building zoning is undue burden except for safety
  • [2H] Keep building height to 4 floors lower
  • Move utilities underground along Arsenal Street
  • Don’t overcrowd the square! Be more open!

Watertown Comprehensive Plan – Draft Plan Open House Feedback

  • $2,451 /month for studio apt., aiming for diversity? Ha Ha Fairy Tale
  • Cap building height when abutting residential neighborhoods
  • End the “mechanical floor” loophole
  • Outside eating, beer garden
  • Create plan for walking square elements – reroute traffic
  • Bathrooms!! Lack of bathrooms is a barrier to many older people, It often deters people from being out and about.
  • No short-term rentals, aka AirBnB’s, in Watertown. We don’t need businesses in residential areas with strangers coming and going
  • Limit bldg height to 4 floors
  • Besides “maintain” some neighborhoods need vast “improvement”
  • 900k sqft of un-leased lab space. Other use?
  • Expand Watertown Library, More Live music venues
  • Encourage more set-back on ground floor to make it easier to passengers/ visitors/ walkers.
  • To improve quality of life some enforcement of care of property especially when rental property is neglected
  • Watertown neighborhoods – concern about traffic
  • Add more green strips on the square sidewalk
  • Increase Density. Give young folks a chance to buy into town long term
  • Consider use of former police station to promote community engagement/ the arts
  • Encourage renovation of historic home instead of tearing them down to make condos. Lack of single-family homes has people moving out to the burbs after they have their 2nd child
  • Preserve “neighborhood character” is REAL needed, and zoning uses are protected by SJC – this is not a “NIMBY” excuse or anti-affordable housing, but quality of life and community connections
  • Pg.8 – Says we asked residents what elements may be added or removed to represent their current vision of the future in Watertown. If we can only comment with post its our voices aren’t being heard. We have no way of knowing what comments or summary of comments are. We have no way of knowing what ideas were listed or considered
  • Pg.32 – Says need for considerations of building heights, setbacks, design character and other factors should guide substantial renovations and new construction. These standards seem to be ignored. If you look at many of these developments they are too close to the sidewalks, are too high, and lack any real character. The proposed Main St. development in the Post office block looks too modern and it’s too high. It should have a design that fits into the area. Look at the character of our older buildings like the city hall and the library. Don’t let the developers develop
    what they want to save money. They often build these buildings and then move on. They don’t really care about the cities and towns afterwards. Our Planners should truly represent us and our needs and wants/o ^yes!
  • Pg.75 – Says city wants to transform areas such as Pleasant St Corridor, Watertown Sq, Coolidge St and Arsenal St Corridor. Ask and listen to the residents on how they want this to happen. More than likely the Planners aren’t living in those areas and don’t have the same ideas as the residents.

Just two more thoughts

Reference to Design Guidelines, a document we taxpayers paid for as a companion piece to our last Comprehensive Plan…read it and weep: https://gambleassoc.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/0-DOWNLOAD-WATERTOWN.pdf

There’s a reference to “We are Watertown, not Weston.” Here’s what that’s about.

One young man got up to berate the group for not letting people like him build two family homes
next to some residents’ “Fancy white houses.” He accused us of thinking that we were Weston.

Another young man got up to counter him and said, “We are not Weston, but we’re not Brighton
either. We Are Watertown!” A vigorous round of applause.

So, what do you think? How’s our City doing so far??

19 thoughts on “LETTER: City Should Listen to Residents Voices About Development

  1. Linda, this is timely and to the point. It is time for Watertown citizens to have their views heard genuinely in the development process.

    The broad based desire for good development over bad is not NIMBYism, but rather concern for community and quality of life issues. We all want more housing. We are all concerned about affordability.

    We have seen quite a bit of bad development. It is time to become more deliberate about what we are doing and it starts with listening to the complaints and views of residents, as they have a day to day, boots on the ground understanding of the town.

    If development continues as it has, Watertown will eventually be an undesirable place to live. The Planning Board must seriously consider these initiatives. We must have a genuine discussion of the merits and the impetus for these proposals.

    Anything less is anti-democratic.

  2. There is a large group of residents that support the recent developments in Watertown. We enjoy the new Arsenal Yards area that replaced a completely dead mall, and all of the new housing units that went into an old brickyard and equipment rental shop. We don’t like our crumbling town square full of obscure business’s (HR block and safari adventure). We want to build 2 families on lots with 1300 sqft SF homes. We want to build ADU’s on our properties for extended family and AirBnB rentals.

    I see a lot of people talking about Watertown like they do a popular restaurant “Oh that place is terrible, its always packed” Watertown is not becoming an undesirable place to live. It is becoming a very popular place to live (and work) which is causing growing pains (traffic, rents increasing, construction) etc.

    Many of the more long term Watertown residents got comfortable from about 1995-2015 when almost nothing new was built in Watertown (go lookup the number of building permits from that period, its actually pretty sad how little was built during that time).

    We are now in a period of very uncomfortable growth in Watertown and the solution is not to just put the brakes on it. We aren’t going to spending 10’s of million of tax dollars to buy properties to build parks (first we should dedicate some $ to actually upgrade some of the playgrounds we already have)

    I am all of open debate on this subject, but I do not support the efforts of residence to highjack zone rules through petition or historical district designations on a development by development basis.

    • Eric, the problems in Watertown Square are not due to a lack of development. At the root of the problem is an urban environment that has been gradually degraded by automobile traffic. Until we make the Square a more pedestrian friendly environment, a place where folks want to spend time, no amount of building will help. In fact, it is likely to reinforce the blight.

      We need more public transportation. We need to change traffic patterns to tamp down the cut through traffic. We need to emphasize the natural environment that the river and parks provide. We must develop a district that is pedestrian friendly. Only then will thoughtful development enhance the Square.

      There is nothing subversive about insisting on good design. Your attitude toward the majority of your townsfolk is not pretty.

  3. Bravo!!! What a well written letter, apposite to the issues facing development in Watertown -and more importantly highlighting the many loopholes that are used to push through agenda’s that have profit rather than Watertown in mind.

    Has anyone noticed how many buildings are vacant around Watertown? How many places that have been built that are desperately looking for tenants? Currently there seem there are many commercial places for rent, but precious little housing that is affordable for everyday citizens.

    I applaud the efforts of the citizens of Watertown to rein in development that makes no sense. This letter makes too much sense. Thank you for bringing up these very important points.

    I signed the petition, I abut commercial space, I attend public meeting, and I vote every election (even the so-called “unimportant” ones). I don’t want Somerville in Watertown. I went to Somerville the other day.,..I hadn’t been in years and now I know why….they took out all the parking, traffic was so insane due to the many construction projects it took an hour an a half to look for parking and drive (I kid, i should have said rubber-neck) and the apartment I once lived in with an open space had been turned into a 15 Unit condo – and more parking was removed.

    So guess what? I drove through and didn’t stop at the Neighborhood-or at the few stores I was hoping to purchase some goods.

    There are three voters in my house soon to be four.

    Thank you for your well-thought out argument and for supporting all the Watertown residents who don’t want to stop progress and development, but want reasonable concessions from developers who have no skin in Watertown other than profit.

    Finally, I want to see the results of the core samples and sun/shade study of the Cannistraro location that the developers said they had done, but didn’t show during the March meeting.

  4. If you feel the current zoning is not representing your area of the city or the downtown area, it is important for you to participate in the Planning Board Meeting on Wednesday night, June 14, at 7 p.m. at City Hall. There are two petitions, which many of you may have signed, that will be discussed and voted on by the Planning Board. (See Watertown News June 12 article on the petitions.)

    There were over 600 signatures on the two petitions. There would have been a lot more if more people helped with getting signatures. Many of the people said that it’s a waste of time to do this because they have lost confidence in our city leaders to listen to us and respond accordingly. Let’s prove them wrong.

    Now is the time for you to speak out regarding zoning. This may be the last chance for you to have influence on what the Planning Board and our Councilors will be deciding. They need to know what you think. If you don’t, then don’t say later that you hate what’s happening in our city. Participation is key to getting the desired results.

    Please either attend in person or Zoom into the meeting (and speak out). The details of the meeting are in the link below in Watertown News.

  5. Re: the title of this OpEd — From what I can see, the city is spending WAY more time than it should to listen to these “voices about development.” These voices are consistently negative and anti-modern. They are not the only ones who matter in this city, but they do tend to take up a lot of oxygen. WE HEAR YOU, WE JUST DISAGREE.

    • Wow! “Anti-modern”! Why not call your neighbors Luddites or cave dwellers? This reeks of arrogance and elitism. It’s not a good look. It smacks of chauvinism.

      There is nothing “anti-modern” or negative about wanting thoughtful design and planning. Those who are calling for change love this town and in some cases understand its assets and its problems better than those who criticize them.

      There is nothing virtuous about misrepresenting your neighbor’s position.

  6. This is a one-time opportunity to “get it right.” We don’t want to be Brighton. We don’t want to be Somerville. We do want more housing but we don’t need more labs being built in spaces that could accommodate multiple family dwellings. We object to shrinking setbacks, and buildings that aren’t appropriately sized that tower over the neighboring single and two-family homes. Thank you Linda, for not giving up on making Watertown more liveable.

  7. The old saw is that the idea of citizen participation, engagement, activism — call it what you will — is like eating spinach: no one is against it in principle because it is good for you. What is more, participation of the governed in their government is, in theory, a tenet of democracy, an idea most people hold dear.

    Often citizen activists learn the hard way that they are the subjects of participation manipulation when lawmakers, officials, administrators and institutions con people into believing they have influence and power in a process that has been intentionally set up to deny them power by emphasizing the one-way flow of information from officials to citizens, limited channels for feedback, and no negotiating power at all.

    Meetings are often simply vehicles for one-way communication, using the device of providing superficial information. Result: People are worn down by futility, accept the information provided as fact, and endorse proposals put forth by those in authority. In the end, the exercise offers no assurance that citizens’ concerns are really taken into account. What citizen activists achieve is that they participate in participation. Those in authority can smugly claim that they have gone through the required motions of involving “We the people.”

    The two taxpayer zoning change petitions are examples of residents seizing the initiative. Reducing the floor area ratio for the Main St. Central Business District from FAR 4 to 2.2 and the petition to refine transitions between industrial and residential areas taken together were signed by more than 600 Watertown voters, expressing their views that, as one signatory put it: “I don’t like what they’re doing to my town.”

    Since the petitions were filed, the City Council approved $200,000 for a Watertown Square study and issued a “Request for Qualifications” for a Watertown Square Plan, whose RFQ deadline was June 12 with a “kickoff” in July 2023. The completion of the study, including proposed zoning amendments is slated for April 1, 2024. At the June 14 Planning Board meeting, a member of the planning department staff reported that a planning consultant for the study has been selected.

    The Planning Department staff report stated that “Prior to completing the plan for the Square, amending a single requirement (FAR change) affecting the overall mass of new buildings in the CB district is inconsistent with good planning process.” The staff report does not define or explain “good planning process.” It should be noted that reducing the FAR from 4 to 2, 2.2. 2.5 or some other number would still allow dense development in Watertown Square. For example, the proposed O’Connor Capital Partners six-story project for the post office block is more than 2.5.

    What can concerned residents learn from the petition initiative? Citizen participation is a waste of time? Residents should just pay the bills and let the “expert” entrenched officials determine the fate of their town? The fix is in when the Four Horsemen of Development ride into town because it’s all about property tax revenue? Studies are nothing but stalling tactics to dampen residents’ discontent and resolve? All of the above and then some?

    Residents may now justifiably wonder whether the new Watertown Square funded study would have been initiated were it not for the taxpayer zoning change petition? Questions to be answered now that the study is set to begin: What is the scope of the proposed study area? Will all of Watertown Square be included in the proposed study area? Will any parcel or development proposal be excised from the study area? What, if any, procedures for resident participation and collaboration will be required by the study? With so many unknowns, proponents of the Watertown Square zoning petition think the Planning Board should reserve judgement — take no action on the petition at this time. As things stand, concerned residents in it for the long haul just must continue to eat their spinach.

  8. Linda,

    I am glad that you showed up to the PB Meeting last night and I hope you appreciated the vigorous and healthy debate that occurred. I hope you felt listened to and that your concerns were acknowledged. I also thank the other folks who showed up (in person or via Zoom) to express their thoughts and I am heartened to see that there are more citizens representing more demographically diverse constituencies in our CITY who feel empowered to express their hopes for a more welcoming and progressive Watertown. I also want to thank President Mark Sideris and others who acknowledged their appreciation for the work that we do.

    I also want to take issue, once again, with the perception that you expressed when you wrote “’ Let’s wait for the Comprehensive Plan to be approved,’ they’ll say, ironically, while quietly planning amongst themselves to load downtown with more of the same.” I’d like to remind everyone that the Planning Board does not “quietly plan” anything in our spare time – for one thing, Open Meeting Law states that we are not allowed to discuss cases outside of meetings, but equally importantly, this is not our role in the process. Our job is to evaluate each project application or proposed zoning amendment on its merits and recommend approval or denial (or approve or deny when we are the SPGA). The Zoning Ordinance does give us some discretion and I believe we use it appropriately. Also, contrary to the belief of some, we do not “rubber stamp” applications; we often continue cases so that the proponent (developer) can make changes to improve them based on our feedback. This has happened several times in recent months and I am pleased that we were able to play a positive role in making projects better. I would urge you to be careful about making statements like the one in your letter that implies some sort of collusion amongst the Planning Board and Staff; it certainly does not help to make the dialog more collaborative as opposed to adversarial.

    Finally, a word about affordable housing: in my opinion, you are either for it or against it; there is really no middle ground. We all know that Watertown, like the rest of the Commonwealth, suffers from extraordinarily high housing costs, which comes down fundamentally to supply and demand. There is a real-estate concept called “absorption” that tracks the time that it takes for new rental housing to be filled; it does not happen right away so the current vacancy rate in Watertown is not necessarily indicative of over-production in the housing market. If we want housing to be affordable, we simply need to build more of it – and if we want to reduce traffic in our neighborhoods and our society’s reliance on single-occupant vehicles, we need to build it close to transportation nodes – hence the MBTA Communities Act, which, like it or not, is the law in Massachusetts. The idea of adjusting our density requirements downwards in our Central Business District runs completely contrary to the intention of welcoming new residents to Watertown (hopefully including many who work here in the many newly-created retail and Biotech jobs) and making housing more affordable for people who already live here (like us).

    Thanks again for your advocacy and for your attendance at the meetings. We all appreciate your comments and consider them along with all of the others.

    • Jason, with all due respect, you fail to acknowledge that the Watertown citizens who are upset about the development process have a legitimate point. It is not a bunch of ill informed folks engaging in nostalgia or NYMBYism. Largely, they are folks who know the town well, have examined what has been developed so far and found it inharmonious to the community they envision for the future.

      Part of your brief as a public servant is to consider and represent the interests of those residents as they see them, not as you see them. One can argue about solutions, but to ignore constituents views and plow ahead is antithetical to the tenets of self governance and democracy.

      I would also point out that collaboration is a two way street. A very large segment of citizens are finding reciprocity on the part of staff and boards quite lacking.

      • Joe,

        First off, and with all due respect, I want to assure everyone that I AM listening to EVERYONE and have always been. If you attended Wednesday’s meeting, you would know that I tried to make that point emphatically, and I meant it. I know you have been a long-time advocate for the East End and Watertown in general, and I appreciate your efforts on behalf of your fellow citizens. I just happen to disagree with some of the opinions of the (traditionally) more vocal people in the city vis-a-vis development and density and vote accordingly. If you watched, you would have noticed that there is also a substantial number of citizens who take a different view about these issues, and if we are breaking this debate into “camps” (based on representation at that meeting), that one outnumbered the more traditional one by about 3:1 or more, by my unofficial count. New voices are coming to the table and I think the city will benefit from more debate about these important issues.
        As for reciprocity and communication, I have made myself available for conversations after meetings several times in the past few months and am happy to discuss the issues with anyone. I am not hiding behind anything.
        I am now going to bow out of this discussion as this may not be the most appropriate forum for this debate.

        • Jason I must object to your assertion of a 3:1 ratio. Many people in the thoughtful development camp have given up. They feel, based on experience, that they will not be heard and they do not care to waste their valuable time. (I am often in that camp these days.)

          Make no mistake that those who feel that there are problems with development process are in the majority, at least among folks I have heard talk (which goes far beyond my own social circle). There is nothing wrong with demanding more thoughtfulness and responsiveness in shaping our town.

          I think that there is, in fact, a minority who are presently very vocal who don’t understand and respect their neighbors and their views and vision.
          These folks call us “anti-modern” as if we are cave dwellers. Wanting developments of higher quality and harmony with their physical surroundings is hardly “anti-modern”.

          I wouldn’t paint all those who question development decisions with the same brush. It is a very diverse group. And many of us are highly educated and practice demanding occupations including in the design world.

          Let me also point out that there is a distinct difference between allowing someone to speak and actually listening.

    • Hi Jason,

      I’ve never been accused of being a subtle person, but maybe in a few instances I was.

      I think if you read those sentences more carefully, you’ll see that the “quietly planning” does not refer to the Planning Board. This planning happens far before you and the Planning Board would have any involvement. I’m sorry if I was unclear.

      As for the MBTA Law, if you’ve been following the conversations other communities have been having (Note: they are actually having community conversations!), you would see that they are grappling with the issues that we as a city should be grappling with as a community, not as a special chosen few who think they know best. Again, this planning happens before it gets to you…not an issue for you and the Planning Board.

      In my series of MBTA articles, (see: https://www.watertownmanews.com/2023/03/28/op-ed-mbta-communities-how-it-could-impact-watertown/ ), the intent was to make the public aware.

      Months ago, after I heard about the MBTA Law from a friend, I asked one of our councilors about it. I was told that Steve Magoon told the Council that they just had to okay a zoning plan that is very favorable to developers, called “as-of-right.” We don’t have to actually build, we just have to plan for it, so nothing should change much.

      Meanwhile, the Brookline planning department was telling its citizens that this was serious, and once things were rezoned, the developers would most certainly come. In August 2022, a BisNow headline: “Developers Smell Opportunity in Boston’s Suburbs as State Finalizes New Density Minimums.”

      The councilor’s remarks struck me as odd, given the development trend in this city already, and it really didn’t jibe with what I was hearing and reading from other places.

      Jason, as an architect, I’m sure you know that there are many ways to fill a space. The default in this City right now seems to be very large, impersonal, and imposing. There’s an old expression, “When you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” That’s where we’re counting on you guys on the Planning and Zoning Boards to jump in and make sure that we don’t turn our City into one, very large bag of nails! Please don’t disappoint us!

      As Anne Civetta, a Watertown resident, writes: This is a one-time opportunity to “get it right.” We don’t want to be Brighton. We don’t want to be Somerville. We do want more housing but we don’t need more labs being built in spaces that could accommodate multiple family dwellings. We object to shrinking setbacks, and buildings that aren’t appropriately sized that tower over the neighboring single and two-family homes.

      The whole point of the article was, the MBTA Law is far too big an issue for citizens to have no information, no say, and to have decisions rammed down their throats and told, “Oh. You wanted to give input? Sorry. That was last week on Wednesday, from 2:00 to 2:30. It wouldn’t have mattered, though. You would have needed to know the secret handshake. Sorry you missed it!” Just kidding, Jason. But sometimes it feels like this to me.

      Back then, the whole point of the article was we have some time. We have some options. Don’t let very rich (soon to be richer) developers call the shots in Watertown before you can have a say about your city. Build it because you want to, not because you have to!! Much better decisions are made when not under the stress of an imminent deadline and when residents of all points of view are involved. Have we started any of these conversations specifically about the MBTA Law? Not to my knowledge. This is what Arlington’s been up to:


      I shared their first meeting in the MBTA article. Since then, they’ve had two more community meetings and developed “visioning” materials for residents to download to host visioning meetings in their homes with friends and neighbors…Need I say more??

      By the way, I mentioned to one of our city planners that I thought 166 Main Street changes the whole skyline of the City, It diminishes it, blocking the view of St. Pat’s steeple. I was told that that wasn’t important, because we’re not a traditional New England city, because we were industrial. I don’t even know what that means. I guess someone needs to break that news to Lowell. It’s just an indication of that person’s personal point of view when reviewing projects for Main Street. Obviously, mine is different.

      There seems to be a perception that when hundreds and hundreds of Watertown residents legitimately express their concerns about the direction development is taking in Watertown, that there’s some hidden agenda. And yet, the people who want to eagerly give developers control over precious acres of Watertown land to do “whatever, as long as it’s big” are high minded. Not sure either assumption is healthy. Citizens of all opinions should have a say and be acknowledged and appreciated for what they have to offer.

      It’s implied that it’s just a few troublemakers sounding off… who happen to be holding handfuls of petitions signed by hundreds and hundreds (over 600) of Watertown voters, I might add. Or, it’s just old folks who don’t like change…sigh, ageism rears its ugly head.

      A note, an urban planner told me that when he sees multiple petitions like this surfacing in a community, it means that the zoning is off and needs readjusting. If anything, these two petitions scream “use some restraint and consider scale when building in this community!” Nowhere in them is it stated “Don’t build.”

      As for speaking for other people, you noticed that I didn’t apologize for that. I accept the comment, but I just don’t agree. When lots and lots of people share their thoughts with me and trust me to represent those thoughts, I feel obligated to do just that.

      I do want to thank you and the whole Planning Board for the time and thought that you put into this process. And, at this week’s meeting, I’d especially want to thank Payson Whitney and Abigail Hammett for carefully reading these petitions and finding things worth recommending for further study.

      I also want to thank Abigail for her suggestion that the public input process be given a once over. Any process where a taxpayer’s certified letter to your board members remains in City Hall for 19 days and is delivered to you the night of the deliberation (a little too late to be opened and considered) needs to be looked at. Again, not your fault.

      I’ve heard from the DCDP that their policy of getting mail to your board has been fixed, but the solution was not shared with me, so I guess that I’m supposed to assume that it really is fine now. Sadly, one thing I’m learning…assume nothing!

      With Regards,

  9. Got to love it when affordable housing gets brought up, just recently read a couple of articles involving how Boston is handling affordable, first up South Station nothing affordable on that one all high end, kind of makes the MBTA Communities Act have a little egg on their face! Next one Dorchester Ave. {Dot Ave. for us stalwarts} Tear down a City block that was what we called affordable, construct 4 buildings with rooftop pools. This really addresses the people in need that just got pushed out, don’t worry folks they probably don’t have the right credentials to live there anyways. All this right within walking distance of the Savin Hill T stop, Looks like the law of the Commonwealth is really working! Ahhh gentrification. I have a tendency to believe that the outbursts, that some may not like, definitely have a beginning from the fiasco known as the Pleasant St Corridor [Bridge St to the Square} now that’s some planning UGH!. Vacancy rates, think the rents have anything to do with it? And now for the biggest myth of all,…..Building more is going to lower the cost of housing, really? Property purchase price, materials and labor alone never mind everything else will never lower the price in this insane market. Prime example; Main St. they quoted rents around say $3000 per month, is that for right now, because they haven’t stuck a shovel in the ground and maybe in about 4-5 years the doors may open, what do think, will it stay the same quote, I don’t think so. I’m not against housing let’s just be more realistic about it and not have another Pleasant St. This is the start of something big and it’s got to get done right! I commend the people who give us more information than the sticky note process, was that held at the Cunniff School because it sure seems elementary to me! Lastly more building = more traffic and I’m not getting out of my car for anyone Hope you enjoyed my thoughts as always more to come Thank You

    • I think there is a misconception about building will lower housing costs. You are correct that cost of land, materials, and labor are all going up along with financing costs which making the cost of building increase dramatically, which increases rents/purchases prices. And yes, the new condo’s/apartments/homes be built are all on the very high end.

      So building new units doesn’t lower the cost to build them, but increasing the supply reduces the amount at which rents can get raise (though they will usually all go up some % anyways from inflation etc.) So for example a 1500 sq/ft unit might have its rent increased 30% over the last few years, but with no new units that increase would have been probably closer to 50-60%, because those buyers coming in to rent the new high end units would have no other options besides bidding up the existing inventory. This also put pressure on landlords to update their properties so they can charge higher rents more inline with with new buildings. (when no new units are introduced we will start to see more and more units fall into poor condition and disrepair) Riverside used be full of multi-family units that were in terrible shape (there are still a few put much fewer than before). Now we are seeing them all be completely gutted and turned into high end rentals and condo’s.

      To your last point, yes Watertown is being/already has been gentrified, lets just call a spade a spade. No amount of zoning petitions is going to change that. Watertown is no longer a blue collar town (median household income is +100k and average worker has at least a college education)

      • I was talking about Gentrification and the MBTA rule and how it’s working in Boston. Nothing about the petitions, whether I’m for or against, it’s about the start of something and getting it right. Also displacing of the most vulnerable people by the continuing high rents, How long do you think the City can subsidize this, or should we be so proud that they offer a few affordable units and thank them. there are alot more people in need than a few units everywhere.

  10. Watertown is made up of a diverse group of people with diverse incomes and occupations. While the median household income may be $100K plus, there are many who live here who did not make the big bucks during their working years and some still do not. They moved here to enjoy the town, now city, based on its merits then and are open to change, but not the change that we are now seeing. Many of them have been paying taxes for a long time and have roots here, friendships that have developed here, and still would like to enjoy living here without having to give up some semblance of what Watertown has been. Do we want Watertown to become an elitist city where only the wealthy and most educated can live? I don’t think so.

    Many would like to see their children continue to live in the city in which they were always proud to be a member, but with inflationary costs that may not be possible. If we had diverse businesses moving into Watertown, maybe there would be jobs created that would allow them to remain here. Even with all the development that has occurred in Watertown, no one is seeing their tax rates go down or their water bills either.

    Is the role of the city now to accommodate the high-paying lab personnel and other highly-educated residents who recently moved or are moving here and have density visions similar to Cambridge or Somerville for us or is it to represent everyone’s points of view? Do established residents have a role to play in decision making? Planning for the future should be a community approach.

    Some young people who are currently moving to Watertown for jobs in the Bio Labs may or may not have families. Will they stay here if they do have children and want back yards in suburban locations as many families do? These new high rise buildings don’t have outside play areas for children; they might have dog parks. You can’t drag your kids and all their paraphernalia around with bikes and with the bad weather we often have. Will they change the climate and architecture of Watertown and then not be here to see the results of their desires and leave the mess behind for other residents?

    If people want the downtown developments to have less single-use vehicles, why are new buildings like 104 Main St. allowing so much parking that will only add to the existing traffic problems. If you want to have these potential renters take the MBTA and ride their bicycles, let’s reduce the parking. Maybe the buildings wouldn’t have to be so high without the levels in the garage. Parking is needed for potential customers of whatever businesses lease space on the bottom floors of the new buildings. We do have parking issues for businesses in the Square. Without adequate parking these businesses don’t do well, but how many customer spaces are being allotted in these buildings?

    As far as accommodating the state’s MBTA mandate, Linda Scott in her articles has listed what some other cities are doing. Are our city leaders looking into other possibilities or are they just going along because they want more state money and not really thinking about what the citizens of Watertown want?

    We do need more housing in Watertown and a lot has been added with the new buildings on Arsenal St., Pleasant St. and the new 711 building on Main St. and there are still many vacancies in them. In the Comprehensive Plan there are other areas highlighted as transformative areas of Watertown. It is my understanding that more housing is probably planned for those areas.

    At the Planning Meeting Wednesday night, no one was saying the volunteer Planning Board members were the problem. People were saying what residents expressed when the signatures for the petitions were gathered, that they feel that our DCDP staff meets with developers and plans are pretty much put in place way before the public has a chance to give input. The Community Meetings are so late in the process that there is very little left to be changed and when the plans keep increasing in size from meeting to meeting, people don’t understand how and why this occurs. There are no communications to the nearby residents explaining these changes. Residents feel the developers always have the upper hand. That is not a good image for Watertown or any city,

    At the meeting Wednesday night there were people who spoke for the petitions and others who opposed them, but using a count from that meeting to make decisions doesn’t seem to be the best approach. There was a group of people texting back and forth to their ‘group’ when there were system problems. They seem to be very organized and willing to overwhelm the meetings with their comments but that is part of free speech. With Zoom and Watertown Cable going down due to the storm, we don’t know who might have been in favor of the petitions who just gave up on the connections and on the cable TV coverage.

    Were there any emails submitted to the Planning Board before the meeting that were sent to Ingrid? If so, what thoughts were in those emails? We never seem to hear about thoughts or ideas presented in that type of communication or even calls made to the Planning Department. That would be important information for people to know and even more important to be part of the decision-making process and reinforce to people taking the time to do it that their comments count.

    The frustrations of our Watertown residents seem have reached a new level and people want significant zoning changes to be made in the Comprehensive Plan to show some respect for tax payers and their visions for a future Watertown. That is what the two petitions were meant to do. Growth can occur; just pick the right spots and the right sizes and consider a broader community group for input. Let’s have more transparency so people feel good about the process and the changes.

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